It’s Only a Matter of Smell

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 20, 2012

It’s Only a Matter of Smell

Lately, you may have gotten a whiff of a rather “earthy” smell in the air or perhaps from your faucet? What’s important to know is what you may smell is due to a natural process that happens twice a year with all deep lakes.  And our Lake Sakakawea, being so large and deep, is certainly no exception to this law of nature.


What’s important to know is the “earthy” smell has nothing to do with the water’s quality. The drinking water remains safe to drink. In fact, the water purified by the Southwest Water Authority, has always met and/or exceeded all of the State and Environmental Protection Agency’s water quality standards.


“While we can’t control the light or temperature of the Lake, and the inevitable “earthy” smell, we can help reduce the duration of this naturally occurring process. And that’s why we pretreat the water,” said Mary Massed (Manager/CEO of Southwest Water Authority). And she added, “Basically, deep lakes smell a couple of times a year for a couple of weeks – fall being one of them. While we could wait a couple weeks and let nature take its course, we installed a water pre-treatment system to speed up the natural lake evolution. The pre-treatment significantly cuts down on the Lake’s turnover time and, thus, gets rid of the unpleasant odor in a quicker period of time. “


Why the smell? Here’s what happens. During late fall, the surface water temperature of a large, deep lake starts cooling down. Once the surface water cools down to 39 degrees Fahrenheit (39°F), it causes the lake to stratify, or form “layers” of water. This layering occurs because of the large difference in temperatures between the surface and the bottom of a lake that occurs each fall.


When the bottom of a deep lake becomes much warmer (lighter) than its surface water, the top and the bottom of a lake literally want to switch places. Now add in Mother Nature’s natural mixer (wind) and the lake literally mixes until the water temperature at all depths reaches approximately the same (39°F) temperature. This process is called lake “turnover.”


This turnover is actually Mother Nature’s way of preparing the lake’s plant and aquatic life for the winter. This phenomenon happens in ALL deep lakes, whether a lake is in North Dakota or the Great Lakes of the Midwest – they all go through (spring and fall) seasonal changes. The turning over of a lake, however, has a somewhat smelly side effect. That’s because lakes actually release trapped gases (burp) as they go through the process. And this harmless gas is what smells.  It doesn’t get absorbed into the water and isn’t harmful when it comes to drinking water. “Here at Southwest Water Authority, we remain dedicated in our mission of quality water for southwest North Dakota,” said Mary.

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Press Contact:  Mary Massad, CEO/Manager – 701-225-0241